We all do it, don’t we?
That first time we hold our new-born child we promise it the world. We swear to protect it, guide it and give it the best of everything.
I know I did.
Yet somehow, just over a year later, I willingly took my son, Sam, into a virtual war zone. Yes, this out of depth Dad has just learned that, in soft play, no one can hear you scream.
God knows it’s easy to find my local soft play center: you just follow the screaming. The plan was to buy a six-month pass – something to get us through the long winter days. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling I was signing my soul away as I scribbled on, seemingly endless, forms. Finally, clutching a shiny new membership card, young Sam and I stumbled into the ‘Fun Room’.
The first thing that hits you is the smell; a sickly mixture of Haribo, vomit and antibacterial spray. I knew there was no time to dawdle. We made a bee-line through the blur of children – zooming around like souped-up Speedy Gonzaleses – to our allotted area. I’d been pre-warned, you see, by some soft play veterans, to go straight to the ‘0-4’ zone and avoid the ‘4+’ section like the plague. Good advice. Even from a distance, the ‘big kids’ area looked like a vision of hell – only louder, day-glo and with more of an emphasis on slides.
On finding the ‘0-4’ zone, I discovered that I needed to remove my shoes. I racked my brains. Was I wearing my (now only pair of) unholy matching socks? I had no idea. Holding my breath, I couldn’t hide my concern as I yanked off a trainer. To my amazement, I was wearing pristine hosiery. Shoeless, I climbed into the play zone, placed Sam on the floor to crawl around freely and stood back – ready to dive in if things got sticky.
It didn’t take long. Within minutes I was leaping, ninja-like, to rescue Sam, as a marauding group of ‘big kids’ – at least one of them looked to have started shaving – charged into the ‘0-4’ space. As one, parents of babies swept up our precious bundles, seconds before they might have been trampled underfoot by the Godzilla-like invasion. Desperate, I called to the parents around the ‘4+’ section:
“Anyone in charge of these kids?”
There was no response – nothing could rouse them from ‘Facechatting’ or ‘Snapbooking’. We were on our own.
Five minutes later, after they’d emptied the ball pool of its contents and scattered crisps everywhere, the roaming ‘big kids’ left – leaving us hapless parents shell-shocked and in dire need of coffee (nothing stronger was on offer). After many sighs of relief, normal service resumed. Soon Sam and a girl of about his age were chewing on, then swapping, balls evicted from the (now empty) pool. I shared a knowing look her mother, as the tots showed little concern for the drool they were exchanging or the inevitable cold that would come with it. If we left with nothing worse than a virus, we’d have done well.
For the record, the carnage-causing ‘big kids’ did come back – this time I was ready. I announced, in as loud a voice as possible, than Sam had done a very big poo. That sent them scurrying.
I swear time runs at a different speed in soft play. Minutes can take hours to pass. After a morning, I no longer had bags under my eyes – I had eyes over my bags.
Eventually, it was time for us to leave. Despite my stress, Sam had clearly loved the experience. I couldn’t say the same but, as a fully paid-up member, I’d just have to make the best of it. Maybe it wasn’t that bad after all? I tried to think positive thoughts. Trundling homewards, I’m sure I heard myself say: “I love the smell of soft play in the morning.”
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Originally published on Huffington Post